Red Cross: 215 Dead in Riots Sparked by Miss World Article

Published November 24, 2002

| Associated Press

The regional governor warned rioters would be shot on sight Sunday as hundreds of people fled the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna after four days of religious violence over the Miss World pageant killed 200 people.

The violence among Muslims and Christians began after a newspaper article last week said Islam's founding prophet would have chosen a Miss World contestant for a wife. The pageant was then moved to London and the contestants packed their gear and flew to the British capital.

By late Saturday, the Nigerian Red Cross counted 215 bodies on the streets and in mortuaries throughout Kaduna, 100 miles north of the capital Abuja, said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the organization. Previous estimates said 100 people killed.

An unknown number of others killed in the riots were believed to have been buried by family members uncounted, Ijewere told The Associated Press.

No new violence was reported Sunday in Kaduna, a Muslim-dominated city with a large Christian minority. Still, hundreds of people recovered what valuables they could from their destroyed homes and fled in cars, buses and on foot.

Those who stayed attended church services and replenished food stocks at markets, where a few meat and vegetable stalls reopened.

The Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi, told state radio that security forces would "shoot on sight" anyone inciting new violence.

Yakubu Ibrahim, 27, returned to find his home in ruins Sunday after taking refuge at a local army barracks for three days.

"I lost everything except my shirt and my pants. I don't even have shoes," said Ibrahim, whose parents and four siblings were missing after the riots.

The fighting began after the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper published an article on Nov. 16 saying Islam's founding prophet would have approved of the pageant.

"What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them," Isioma Daniel wrote.

Muslim protesters burned down the paper's office in Kaduna on Wednesday and rioting briefly spread to the capital, Abuja, on Friday before ending a day later.

More than 500 people were injured and 4,500 left homeless in Kaduna, Ijewere said. Casualty figures were not immediately available for Abuja.

The 80 Miss World contestants arrived in London Sunday on a hastily organized flight from Nigeria. The London show is scheduled for Dec. 7, the same day it had been planned for Nigeria.

"Obviously it's been quite daunting but I'm just happy to be home, looking forward to seeing my family," said Miss England, 22-year-old Daniella Luan.

A top Nigerian Islamic leader called on Muslims not to resume fighting. In an interview published Sunday in ThisDay, Lateef Adegbite, secretary-general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, forgave the newspaper.

ThisDay has run several apologies in recent days, saying the offensive portion of the article was published by mistake.

"We accept that explanation in good faith, and I call on all Nigerian Muslims to forgive ThisDay newspapers," Adegbite said. "Such a thing should never be done again. And it should be a lesson to others."

Adegbite said Nigerian Muslims were grateful Miss World had been moved to London.

"We thought it was wrong," he said, describing the pageant as a "parade of nudity" that is disrespectful of Islam.

Much of the violence Friday and Saturday was by Christians retaliating against Muslim neighborhoods, Ijewere said.

"Some Christians feel especially bitter, because with the exit of Miss World, they have lost a symbolic battle while the Muslims have won," Ijewere said. "Our greatest fear is that it could spread to other cities now."

At least 22 churches and eight mosques were destroyed in the mayhem, said Shehu Sani of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress. Ten hotels were also badly damaged, said Sani, whose group confirmed more than 200 people were killed.

One policeman and one soldier were arrested on allegations of dragging 15 Muslim men out of their homes and killing them, Sani said. The victims' bodies were then thrown into a river, he said.

There were also reports that police and soldiers gunned down more than a dozen other civilians without provocation, he said.

A police spokesman could not immediately confirm the reports.

Ethnic and religious fighting is common in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. More than 10,000 people have been killed in clashes since civilian government replaced military rule in 1999, and Kaduna alone saw riots in March 2000 that killed up to 2,000 people.

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